32 minutes | May 22, 2020

44: Schwa, the most versatile English vowel

The words about, broken, council, potato, and support have something in common -- they all contain the same sound, even though they each spell it with a different letter. This sound is known as schwa, it's written as an upside-down lowercase e, and it has the unique distinction of being the only vowel with a cool name like that! (The other vowels are called, unglamorously, things like "high front unrounded vowel"). In this episode of Lingthusiasm, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about why the schwa is cool enough to get its own name! We also talk about why the word schwa doesn't itself have a schwa in it, the origin of the word schwa in Hebrew and German, the relationship between schwa and "silent e", and how schwa contributes to an English-sounding accent in other languages. Schwa is also a big reason why English spelling is so difficult, because other vowels often become schwa when they’re not in a stressed syllable (giving rise to lots of jokes like “I wanna be a schwa, it’s never stressed). This month’s bonus episode is about numbers! We talk about fossilized number systems (which explain words like "eleven" and "twelve" in Germanic languages), counting gestures and different base systems in various languages (from base 6 to base 27), and indefinite hyperbolic numerals (words like "bazillion" and "umpteen"). Support Lingthusiasm on Patreon to get access to the numbers episode, as well as 38 other bonus episodes, and to chat with fellow lingthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm patron Discord. We can all aspire to be a little less stressed, like our favourite English vowel. We've created new Schwa (Never Stressed) merch. Available in a floral garland, stylised geometric black on white and stylised geometric white on black. Pins, cards, mugs, and mobile phone cases. Art by Lucy Maddox www.lucymaddox.com. Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Also check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com Lingthusiasm merch makes a great gift for yourself or other lingthusiasts! Check out IPA scarves, IPA socks, and more at lingthusiasm.redbubble.com Have a great idea for a linguistics communication project, but need a bit of money to get it off the ground? Looking to support emerging lingcomm projects? The LingComm Grant is four $500 grants for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020. Applications close 1st of June 2020. Find out more and apply here. For all the links mentioned in this episode: https://lingthusiasm.com/post/618776884082360320/lingthusiasm-episode-44-schwa-the-most-versatile
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